Derbies are one of the best things about the game of soccer. They encapsulate the passion that accompanies the sport superbly; pre-game banter, on-the-pitch confrontations, superfluous managerial gesticulations on the sidelines and swathes of over-the-top supporter fandom in the stands.
Of course, tempers can boil over and whilst the commentators will instinctively quip that “nobody likes to see this part of the game,” we all love to see a bit of needle really, don’t we?!
These games aren’t restricted to immediate local rivalries either, as our selections this week will attest. Often a clash between two teams from completely different cities is dubbed a “derby” game. Just look at Real Madrid vs. Barcelona, Newcastle vs. Sunderland, Inter Milan vs. Juventus and perhaps most famously, Manchester United vs. Liverpool.
The latter of those aforementioned games is often cited as the “most watched on the planet,” and it’s part of our selection this weekend. Trying to follow that spectacle will be Tottenham vs. Arsenal, as they lock horns in the North London derby immediately after. They’re a pair of games that will have significant connotations in the race for the Premier League title and European football.
We’ve also got a huge game in the States as MLS runs into its second week, plus a cracking double header from Germany featuring all three of the Bundesliga’s top sides. There’s a few honorable mentions too. We do spoil you lot…
All kick off times are Eastern Time. Enjoy the weekend and enjoy your football!
Hull City vs. Manchester City, Saturday, March 15, 8:45AM, NBCSN: After fulfilling their commitments in the League Cup, FA Cup and Champions League, Manchester City have plenty of catching up to do in the Premier League. Win all their games in hand and they’ll go back to the top of the table, so a win against Steve Bruce’s FA Cup semifinalists in Saturday’s early kickoff is an absolute must.
Aston Villa vs. Chelsea, Saturday, March 15, 1:30PM, NBCSN: Jose Mourinho’s men just keep churning out results in their quest for Premier League glory and they have the opportunity to go a whopping ten points clear of second placed Liverpool with a win at Villa Park. Paul Lambert’s side can occasionally upset the odds though, and they’ll be in high spirits after thrashing Norwich City 4-1 in their last league encounter.
Malaga vs. Real Madrid, Saturday, March 15, 3:00PM, beIN SPORTS and DishWorld: Real Madrid face the trickiest task of the triumvirate of title challengers in La Liga this weekend. Los Blancos travel to Andalusia to face Malaga, who have had a disappointing campaign to date. But with the pressure on, odd results have been known pop up. Will we see another twist in the title race here?
Aberdeen vs. Inverness Caledonian Thistle, Sunday, March 16, 10:30AM, online stream: The Scottish League Cup final takes place on Sunday, with Aberdeen chasing an historic cup double. Inverness CT qualified for this final after scoring a late equaliser in the semifinal with just nine men! They went on to win on penalties and will be underdogs heading into this final, due to take place at Celtic Park.
Borussia Dortmund vs. Borussia Monchengladbach
Saturday 15 March. 10:30AM, GolTV
It feels like we need to be ready for just about anything when Jurgen Klopp’s Dortmund team take to the field this season. They’ve mixed the sublime with the ridiculous in a campaign ravaged by injuries and after looking as though they may slip out of the Champions League places at one point, they’ll be keen to establish themselves in second place behind Bayern Munich, the spot they currently occupy.
In Monchengladbach though, they face an adversary who are just as inconsistent. They too harboured ambitions of finishing in the Champions League places after a superb run at the back end of 2013. But the winter break sapped their momentum and disrupted their rhythm. Now they find themselves clinging onto the likes of BVB, Schalke 04 and Leverkusen in desperate need of points to mount a serious European charge.
You wouldn’t put it past Monchengladbach going to Dortmund and turning over Die Borussen, but equally you’d be no less surprised if Dortmund won by an absolute landslide given the attacking talent at their disposal. So if you’re a betting man, perhaps avoid this one.
If these two mercurial sides can play approaching to a level approaching their best, this could be 90 minutes of free-flowing, attacking action. Let’s hope it gets us off to a flyer this weekend.
Bayern Munich vs. Bayer Leverkusen
Saturday 15 March, 1:30PM, GolTV
After completing the job against Arsenal in European competition, Bayern Munich turn their attentions back to domestic matters. They’re still unbeaten this season under Pep Guardiola and if they continue obliterating their opposition in a manner akin to their 5-1 dismantling of FC Schalke last week, they could have the Bundesliga title wrapped up before we even get to April.
In truth, it’s difficult to see any other outcome. Even though Saturday’s opponents Leverkusen are a good side and having a very decent season themselves. They’ll harbour hopes of causing some problems for Bayern. A holding midfield of Simon Rolfes and Lars Bender is as industrious as it comes, whilst the Bayer front three of Heung-Min Son, Sidney Sam and Stefan Kiessling are more than capable of nicking a goal.
Sami Hyypia’s side certainly need the points. They’ll be keen to avoid being dragged into a battle for the Champions League spots after being second in the table for so long.
Any kind of result at the Allianz Arena will be viewed as a major, major surprise though, for Bayern have been so unwaveringly dominant for so long this season. They should win here and tick off another difficult fixture on their way to an historic unbeaten campaign. Expect the likes of Jerome Boateng, Rafinha, Toni Kroos and Thomas Mueller all to feature in this one after sitting out the Champions League tie in midweek.
Seattle Sounders vs. Toronto FC
Saturday 15 March, 4:30PM, NBCSN
After an off-season of well-documented investment, Toronto FC will be given a real test of their credentials as they face the Seattle Sounders in their first game of the MLS season.
The home side came through in the opening weekend after a late, late goal from Chad Barrett and they’ll be keen to make it two wins from two against a team that will be an undoubted scalp in this year’s competition.
But that’ll be easier said than done against a Toronto XI that’ll contain players of the calibre of Julio Caesar, Michael Bradley and Jermain Defoe. By acquiring those three talents in the off-season, Toronto have fashioned an exceptionally strong spine to their side and will be hopeful their influence can help galvanise the rest of their playing squad.
After all the speculation and off-field negotiations this summer, it’s time for Ryan Nelsen’s side to deliver. A win at Seattle would set a very strong precedent for what promises to be an intriguing campaign for Toronto FC.
Manchester United vs. Liverpool
Sunday 16 March, 9:30AM, NBCSN
It’s quite the reversal of fortunes for these two sides on the brink of this one. We’ve become used to Liverpool languishing outside the top four whilst United challenge for titles in recent years. But this time it’s Brendan Rodgers with his eye on silverware, whereas United, well, less said the better really…
The shift has been pretty seismic, in truth. David Moyes and his side go into this one with virtually no chance of securing Champions League football for next season, so their primary motivation for this game must be stopping their great rivals winning their first league title in over two decades. And despite a terrible first campaign post-Sir Alex Ferguson, there have been small signs recently that they might be able to do so.
But is United’s mini revival going to be enough to stop a rampant Liverpool team? The Reds haven’t won at Old Trafford since that remarkable 4-1 drubbing back in 2009 and you have to say, it wouldn’t be a huge surprise if we were to see a similar outcome here. Liverpool have been the great entertainers this season and are well worthy of their “title challengers” tag.
Sparks fly when these two meet and it’ll be interesting to see how United respond to being huge underdogs here. It’s a label Moyes did relish during his tenure at Everton, but his deplorable record against the Anfield club will be of great cause for concern.
Tottenham vs. Arsenal
Sunday 16 March, 12:00PM, NBCSN
Most derby games in England are tight, tense and largely low scoring affairs. Neither team wants to give an inch, usually adopting a “must not lose” mantra given what’s at stake. But North London derbies have proven to be a little different down the years…
Instead of trying to out-battle each other in your archetypical English football, blood and thunder philosophy, Tottenham and Arsenal usually try to out-score each other. The results have been scintillating and six, seven, eight and even the odd nine-goal thriller has become the patent for these fixtures. On the cusp of this one, you have to expect a similar outcome.
Tim Sherwood has been publicy critical of his players in the week leading up to this contest and that’s a move that typically ends with total capitulation or a huge response. Spurs fans will be hoping it’s the latter, of course, and they’ll be expected to fly out of the traps in front of what’ll be an undoubtedly raucous White Hart Lane crowd.
Arsenal must stand firm, though. A Spurs win here would put them move to three points behind the Gunners and all of a sudden Arsene Wenger’s side may start looking over their shoulder. They put in a solid performance in their 1-1 draw in midweek and must build on that at the home of their fiercest rivals.
What games will you be watching this weekend? Let me know in the comments section or on Twitter @MattJFootball